Creatives You Should Know: Nico Pimentel

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When Nico Pimentel leads clients step-by-step down what he calls the innovation path, they're never sure exactly where they'll end up because it probably hasn't been invented yet.

If you're Nike Argentina, the journey's end is seeing your new Air Max shoe float and fly through the air in a Nike Air Show. For PepsiCo, it's a unique vending machine that appears to manufacture Lay's potato chips before your eyes after a real potato is dropped in the coin slot.

The former BBDO Argentina director of integrated communications started +Castro two years ago in Buenos Aires as an "innovation house" to focus on creating and implementing big ideas. That often involves inventing the technology behind the ideas, too.

"For us the word innovation means to put creativity where not a lot of people would," Mr. Pimentel said. "To come up with new product ideas, we do consumer experiments. We're really flexible, and are very different for different clients."

His eight-person company also experiments with people. You won't find traditional creative teams at +Castro. For one project, he paired an engineer/art director with an architect.

For Nike Air Show, Air Max shoes appeared to levitate almost two inches off the ground. Players blew on a microphone at the Nike store in Buenos Aires or in their computers at home to make the floating shoes race along a real track at the store. Later, +Castro worked with BBDO Argentina on an "inter Twitter race' run alongside Nike's 10K race in Buenos Aires. The virtual race showed how many 'followers' competitors in the real world race had.

The Lay's vending machine, which appears to really manufacture Lay's potato chips but is actually showing a clever video of the process activated by a raw potato dropping in the coin slot, was such a hit that now Lay's marketing executives in other countries want one, too. The machine is used for sales promotion in supermarkets, to show how Lay's are made from real potatoes. Mr. Pimentel's client in Argentina is taking orders from his counterparts in Latin America and elsewhere for machines of their own, to be made by +Castro.

Mr. Pimentel is also working on how to take Pepsi's local healthy snack brand Twistos international, and creating digital tools for soccer fans for a soccer platform Gillette will launch.

"A lot of people talk about innovation, but not a lot of them have the guts," he said. "When you innovate, it's all about uncertainty. You don't know exactly how you're going to make the (Nike) shoe fly. So the most important thing is trust."

Mr. Pimentel has a gift for establishing rapport and trust with major marketers at a senior level.

"Nico has a unique blend that makes him a partner you want to have working on an innovation incubator (at Kraft)," said Maria Mujica, Latin America marketing director for gum and candy at Kraft, which is embarking on a multi-brand project with Mr. Pimentel. "He combines a strategic mind with very creative and fresh thinking, and a lot of streetwise resourcefulness."

The +Castro office, once a stable for horses and later a retail store, is an environment for inspiration. Electric sockets hang from the ceiling so desks and tables on wheels can be moved around, completely changing the space. One old vending machine is a coat closet and another has become the Vending Gallery, a small rotating art exhibition curated by a staffer and displayed in a vending machine. The current 'show' is Mr. Pimentel's own collection of 1980s Transformer toys.

Mr. Pimentel created an opportunity out of a crisis in his own life, when a volcanic ash cloud from Chile closed the Buenos Aires airport as he was about to fly to France to be a judge at last year's Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

"We made a decision not all people would have--let's go to Cannes by bus!" he said. (In fact, almost no one would have made that decision).

Luckily he was traveling with a friend, Natalia Rodoni, who was on the PR jury. Together they set off on the first leg of what turned out to be a four-day road trip, starting with an 18-hour bus ride to Argentina's border with Brazil. They turned the experience into a short, hilarious movie as enthusiastic followers of their saga at hashtag #rodmovie posted encouragement.

They've just entered that short film about their road trip to Cannes in the crisis management section of the PR Lions contest--at the Cannes festival.

Check out the full list of Creativity's 2012 Creatives You Should Know.

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